It’s an irony of modern life: Smartphones set us free; smartphone service contracts keep us chained. We sign two-year contracts, we have data speeds throttled if we consume too much, and we pay extra to use our phones as personal hotspots or modems.
I object in particular to the personal hotspot charge. That’s why I often investigate smartphone applications that promise to let me bypass my wireless service provider’s costly hotspot/tethering fees.
Unfortunately, my experience with such apps has been spotty at best.
In March, I reviewed Tether, an HTML "app" that for $30 a year promised—but did not deliver—the ability to turn my iPhone into a personal hotspot.
More recently, I had mixed results with PdaNet for Android on my Samsung Galaxy Note. PdaNet (current version: 3.50) is designed to turn an Android device into a personal Wi-Fi hotspot when combined with the free download FoxFi program and without having to root your device. The app also promises to get you online via a Bluetooth DUN connection to your smartphone. And a third option lets you tether via USB cable and use your smartphone as a modem.
Unfortunately, all attempts to use PdaNet’s Wi-Fi hotspot feature along with my MacBook Air and Samsung Galaxy Note were unsuccessful. The connection kept timing out. Strike one.
The Bluetooth connection worked for a minute or two before dropping. I reconnected, it worked again for a minute or two, and then the connection dropped again. Strike two.
Only the USB tethering option saved PdaNet from striking out completely. It consistently worked, and the connection speed it delivered was zippy. For example, at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, the USB tethering mode’s download speed was roughly 3.4 Mbps and upload speed was about 3.3 Mbps on AT&T’s 4G LTE network. In comparison, the airport’s free Wi-Fi network delivered download speeds of about 1.1 Mbps and uploads of 3.7 Mbps.
Which highlights yet another irony: PdaNet gave me a taste of freedom from AT&T’s personal hotspot add-on fee—but only while I was tethered.